According to the latest report by US scientists, Afghanistan may be sitting on one of the richest troves of minerals in the world, loaded with minerals deposited by the violent collision of the Indian subcontinent with Asia.
Shortly after the falll of the Taliban regime, the US Gelogical Survey (USGS) began inspecting what minereal resources Afghanistan had in 2004. Magnetic, gravity and hyperspectral surveys were also conducted by US reachers from airbone missions over Afghanistan in 2006.
According to the survey report, Afghanistan may hold 60 million tons of copper, 2.2 billion tons of iron ore, 1.4 million tons of rare earth elements such as lanthanum, cerium and neodymium, and lodes of aluminum, gold, silver, zinc, mercury and lithium.
For instance, the Khanneshin carbonatite deposit in Afghanistan’s Helmand province is valued at $89 billion, full as it is with rare earth elements.
Jack Medlin, a geologist and program manager of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Afghanistan project, told Live Science, “Afghanistan is a country that is very, very rich in mineral resources. We’ve identified the potential for at least 24 world-class mineral deposits.”
Afghanistan’s mineral resources were valued at $908 billion by U.S. Department of Defense’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) in 2010. However, Afghan government’s estimate is $3 trillion.
According to Madlin, the resources provide the potential for Afghanistan to develop its economy, to create jobs and build infrastructure, as it goes into the future.
Said Mirzad, co-coordinator of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Afghanistan program, said the mineral riches could lift Afghanistan out of poverty and fight crime and terrorism.
“Terrorists in Afghanistan exploited the misery of the local population,” Mirzad said. “If you give the population jobs, if they could bring bread to the table, if they had something to defend, then the terrorists, who are very few in number, won’t have sway.”
However, Madlin said lack of security and infrastructure including access to energy, roads, railroads and so forth are the main challenges ahead of developing a mining industry in Afghanistan.
In the meantime, Madlin said the USGS is currently helping to rebuild the scientific expertise of the Afghanistan Geological Survey, teaching the researchers modern techniques such as remote sensing. “We want to bring the Afghanistan Geological Survey into the 21st century,” Medlin said. “The aim is to help the Afghans develop their mineral resources in a sustainable way.”